The fur is flying, the noise is at a decibel I've never experienced before and the desire to win is so thick you can feel it. This is agility competition for dogs and Fiona, my soon to be athlete, and I are on the sidelines of an agility competition taking notes. Dogs of every breed, size and shape are jumping hurdles, running up A-frames, scampering across elevated walkways and diving through tunnels. So as not to get lost on the course, each dog is in constant eye contact with their owner who gives directions through hand signals and one-word prompts.
Even if your pup gets the best start in life, he will still likely develop some “problem” behaviors as he grows up. We put the word “problem” in quotes because most of these behaviors are natural and normal dog behaviors, but they are not welcome in the human world. Behaviors like jumping on you as a gesture of affection, nipping at your hands as an invitation to play, and sniffing you in inappropriate places are all perfectly acceptable behaviors for dogs to do to other dogs.
Basic or beginner's obedience is typically a short course ranging from six to ten weeks, where it is demonstrated to the handler how to communicate with and train the dog in a few simple commands. With most methods the dog is trained one command at a time. Though there may or may not be a specific word attached to it, walking properly on a leash, or leash control, is often the first training required prior to learning other commands.
According to the USDAA, there are over 150 breeds of dogs, including mixed-breed dogs, involved in agility. Some breeds, like the Australian Shepherd and the Dutch Shepherd, are known for excelling at the sport. However, you should not let the fact that you have a Golden Retriever or a mixed-breed dog stop you from trying it. If your dog is playful and energetic, it will probably enjoy agility training.
There is an ever-growing list of agility sanctioning organizations. The ones you’ll hear about most often in the US are NADAC, AKC, and the USDAA (see below for a more complete list of national and international groups). Each organization has its own rules and style. For example, NADAC courses are spread out and focus on speed. They often challenge the handler to send their dog through the course at a distance. USDAA courses are “tighter” and more technically challenging.
But wait, there’s more! Agility gives you something cool to do with your dog. This is important if you have a hard time getting your dog to do what you say. It teaches Fido that you are lots of fun and worth listening to. Compare this to another common activity for dogs: the dog park. At the dog park, you let him off leash and he goes off to do his own thing. Returning to you is no fun because it means he has to go home. You’re not Fido’s best buddy. You’re his chauffeur.
"Training with John gave me the tools to better communicate with my pup. He is very patient, and willing to work on specific problems or challenges with each person with whom he works. My dogs behavior has improved in all aspects, and our bond is stronger because he understands what is acceptable and what is not. Thank you for helping me get there, John."